The Gyanvapi Line and the Places of Worship Law were born together. Now each wants to end the other

AYodhya toh bas jhanki hai, Kashi Mathura baqi hai (Ayodhya is just a teaser, Kashi and Mathura are next)”. Over 30 years later, that 1990s battle cry used by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad during the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi movement has now reached ‘Kashi’.

The legal dispute over the Gyanvapi Mosque complex, which adjoins the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi, dates back to 1991, the year the PV Narasimha Rao government passed the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act to preserve the ” religious character”. of a place of worship as it existed on August 15, 1947. More than three decades later, both the mosque and the law are struggling to survive.

In the last week alone, the Hindu community’s claim to the mosque has been heard more than once in a local court in Varanasi as well as in the Supreme Court, orders have been passed to seal off the area of ​​the compound of masjid where a ‘Shiva Linga’ would have discovered, and a report of the discovery of debris from ancient temples was submitted to the court. And that’s why, Gyanvapi Mosque Row is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.


Read also : ‘Peace is our priority’ – why SC transferred Gyanvapi Mosque civil suit to lead judge


fault in our stories

The Gyanvapi Mosque is historically believed to have been built by Aurangzeb after he destroyed the Kashi Vishweshwar Temple. One of the sources cited by experts to prove this claim dates back to 353 years ago, written in 1669 by Saqi Musta’idd Khan, the contemporary historian of Aurangzeb. A passage from Khan’s book, Maasir-i-Alamgiri said: “Orders concerning Islamic affairs have been given to the governors of all the provinces that the schools and places of worship of the irreligious should be subject to demolition and that with the utmost urgency the manner of teaching and the practices of the sects of these disbelievers be suppressed.”

However, how this story is interpreted is key to how it is accepted and reconciled. For example, while Hindu right-wing historians use the passage to portray Aurangzeb Alamgir as a religious fanatic who ordered the demolition of all temples in India, secular historians have since tried to point out how the demolitions at the era were largely political – they were often used to punish “disloyal Hindu officers in their service by desecrating the temples with which they were associated”.

From 1991 to 2021

Citing this story, several attempts were made by the Hindu side to reclaim the Gyanvapi Mosque area. The original lawsuit in the case was filed in 1991 on behalf of the deity ‘Swayambhu Lord Vishweshwar’, demanding that Hindus be allowed to ‘renovate and rebuild their temple’.

While this lawsuit was ongoing, the management committee of the Gyanvapi Mosque, Anjuman Intezamia Masjid, succeeded in obtaining a stay of proceedings from the High Court in Allahabad in 1998. The committee had stated that such a lawsuit was prohibited by the provisions of the law on places of worship. , 1991.

As this stay continued for the next two decades, another attempt at ASI investigation was made through an application filed in December 2019, a month after the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya verdict which gave the disputed site to Hindus.

Despite the High Court’s stay in 1998, Civil Judge (Main Division) Ashutosh Tiwari granted the request for an ASI investigation into the Gyanvapi compound in April 2021. The Allahabad High Court intervened again, criticized the order and suspended it on September 9.

However, the stage was already set for a new battle 22 days before the intervention of the high court. On August 18, a plea had been filed in another local court in Varanasi, by a Delhi-based woman and four Varanasi-based women, seeking permission to worship idols Maa Shringar Gauri, Lord Ganesh, Lord Hanuman and Nandi that would be inside the mosque. .


Read also : Aibak, Akbar, Aurangzeb – the Gyanvapi division and why a controversial mosque has a Sanskrit name


Shiva linga, kalash, trishul

Showing an expected but usually invisible urgency in the courts, the Varanasi court, on the day the plea was entered, ordered the appointment of a commissioner attorney, Ajay Kumar Mishra, to conduct an investigation at the scene. The following day, August 19, 2021, he also ordered the inspection to be filmed.

A procedural challenge was dismissed by the Allahabad High Court on April 21, in a 14-page judgment that made no mention of the 1991 law.

The investigation into the mosque began on May 6. The case came to the Supreme Court last week, May 13, following a petition filed by the mosque’s management committee, citing the 1991 law. In response, the head of the Hindu Sena moved the court saying that the 1991 Act does not apply to the Gyanvapi Mosque because the former Kashi Vishwanath Temple and the Shringar Gauri Temple within the mosque complex fall under the Ancient Monuments and Sites and Sites Act 1958 archaeological remains. The 1991 law exempts monuments covered by the 1958 law.

Before the Supreme Court could hear the case, a motion was filed before Civil Judge (Senior Division) Ravi Kumar Diwakar alleging that a shiva linga was found in the premises of the mosque during the inspection. On Monday, the judge quickly ordered the Varanasi District Magistrate to seal the place where the shiva linga would have been found.

The Supreme Court allowed the ordinance to remain on Tuesday, while ordering that it should not “restrict or prevent access of Muslims to the mosque or the use of the mosque for the purpose of performing namaz and observances. nuns”.

On Thursday, two reports on the video investigation were submitted to the court in Varanasi, claiming that debris from ancient temples had been found on the walls outside the barricade, and Hindu motifs such as bells, kalash , flowers and trishul were visible on pillars in the tehkhana (basement).

The Supreme Court bench on Friday declined to interfere with the investigation, but transferred the case to a district judge, saying “a little more seasoned and mature hand (should) hear this.” He asked the district judge to decide whether the lawsuit filed by the Hindu side could be upheld on a priority basis. The court said it was making the decision with “paramount peace in their minds” and to “maintain balance and brotherhood between the two communities”.

Importantly, the court noted that the 1991 law only prohibits the conversion of places of religious worship, but does not prohibit the “verification of the religious character” of such places.


Read also : BJP stokes communal issues with eye on 2024 polls, says Shiv Sena on Gyanvapi Mosque row


Quest for “Original Glory”

The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act 1991 prohibits the conversion of places of worship, such as churches, mosques and temples, into a place of worship of a different religion. It also indicates that any legal proceedings concerning such a conversion would cease after the entry into force of the law. The law exempted Ayodhya’s dispute and any legal proceedings relating to it.

But why did a law passed in 1991 set the date of Indian independence as the deadline for maintaining the status quo of religious sites? Because independence, in the words of the Supreme Court in its Babri judgment, “was a decisive moment to heal the wounds of the past”.

When this law was being debated in parliament, BJP leader Uma Bharti did not want August 15, 1947 as the deadline, demanding that a deadline be set “to restore the original glory of all religious places from the time of ‘Alvan’. -Qasim”. The best way to find a solution to such disputes, she said, “is to restore all religious places to their former traditional glory.” In many ways, this quest for “original glory” reappeared with the row of Gyanvapi mosques.

However, all these proposals were rejected. LK Advani and a few other BJP leaders staged a walkout, and the bill passed even as BJP members “peeked into the House”.

The Battle of Kashi

With the legal battle over the Gyanvapi Mosque and the Places of Worship Law used to interrogate the other, the stage is set for the Battle of Kashi.

The 1991 law is naturally cited as legal protection against any legal proceedings involving the Gyanvapi Mosque currently. This is particularly relevant in light of the Supreme Court’s observations on the law in its Babri verdict. The five-judge bench had asserted that the 1991 Act is “intrinsically bound up with the obligations of a secular state”, and with this Act, “Parliament has unequivocally mandated that history and its wrongs must not be used as instruments to oppress the present and the future”.

However, the dispute in turn also threatened the very existence of this law. Several BJP leaders including MP Harnath Singh Yadav, Madhya Pradesh official P. Muralidhar Rao, former Chhattisgarh Home Minister Brijmohan Agrawal and former Uttar Pradesh Minister Sidharth Nath Singh are lobbying to review the provisions of the law.

Thus, the dispute of the Gyanvapi mosque and the law of 1991 are fighting for their survival. The battle could be won in court or in Parliament, but the outcome would decide the future not only of the tangible religious structures in India, but also of the intangible foundational structures of secularism and religious freedom on which the country was built. .

Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant)

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